Should you drug test your kid?

bigstock-Yes-No-Maybe-Signpost-2866212 (2)To drug test, or not?  That is the question facing parents who are concerned that drugs or alcohol are part of their teen’s secret lives. And that is a reasonable concern: prescription pills are the drug of choice for 12 and 13-year olds, and 85% of teens graduate from high school having tried alcohol or drugs that were not prescribed for them.

Drug testing can put your mind at rest or confirm your worst fears.  It can also give your child a way to resist peer pressure.  No matter how much we parents value rugged individualism, it is the rare child who can say “No” when everyone else is saying “Yes.” Ostracism feels like a very real threat while addiction or overdose are inconceivable outcomes. Being a teen is all about fitting in, and a child who doesn’t go along with the crowd can be ostracized or bullied. ““I really want to party, but my mother is INSANE!  She drug tests me, and I don’t want to get busted” gives teens a socially acceptable “out” while letting them retain appear to be one of the herd.

Drug testing also tells your child that you are serious about your standards and expectations.  It puts teeth into your rules and shows that you mean what you say. Your kids may assert, “I can’t believe you don’t trust me!” and you may fear that your alleged lack of trust will jeopardize your relationship with your kids. You can explain to them that you know how hard it is to be a teen and that you are giving them the gift of being cool and safe at the same time.  Then end the conversation. A teen who continues to argue over this indignity is a teen crying out for drug testing.

I drug tested my child halfheartedly and erratically.  I didn’t want to find out the truth, and I didn’t know what I would do if the test came up positive.  My inability to drug test him revealed my own sense of powerlessness over the darkening storm clouds.  And it was so much easier to accept his claims of innocence then figure out how to solve our problem. And I was ashamed to buy drug test kits at my neighborhood pharmacy. And….and….and….

But now—now more excuses.  You can  purchase drug test here, inexpensively and confidentially.

Knowledge is Power – Educating Parents and Teens about addiction

pills in a cup rxWe all know that being armed with knowledge is very powerful. In the case of teenage addiction we are failing our kids and their parents by not arming them with critical information about the effects of drugs and alcohol on the developing teen. I’m guessing if you’re reading this that you are like me and that you have had an experience with your child, or know of someone, who has become dangerously involved in substance abuse. I know so much more now that I wish I had known when my kids were growing up. We are not educating teens or their parents in a way that helps them understand what they are up against. It is always easier to look back and realize this, I understand that. But I also think that knowing what I know now comes with a certain responsibility. I will talk to anyone who will listen and have become an activist in the area of teen drug and alcohol abuse.
I am compelled to write about this because I have recently experienced understanding how some very basic information like ‘prescription drugs are very addictive and dangerous to take’ is not understood by teens and their parents. What may seem obvious to some of us, who have walked this journey with our loved ones, is not at all obvious to others. More information about the effects of substance abuse needs to go out to our communities at the early teenage years and every year thereafter. Awareness does drive prevention, studies and actions in other communities have unequivocal proof. Pathway to Prevention has created the documentary Collision Course – Teen Addiction Epidemic which is aimed at educating parents and teens through stories of young people who have gone through addiction and parents who have traveled the journey with them. I am very hopeful that this documentary will become main stream to educate throughout every community near and far. The heart ache caused by teen addiction is devastating and it is 100% preventable, we just have to convince kids to never take that first drink, pill or smoke.

Ask the Expert: Does my daughter want me to help or to leave her alone?

mother and daughter on beachYour question: How do I know if my daughter is crying out for help or is really just pushing me away? My daughter is 23 and has had emotional issues dating back to her early teens. When she went off to college, she turned to drugs for self medicating. Our family has been dealing with the ups and downs that come along with this. She now lives 2,100 miles away and I am so afraid for her. I have little knowledge about where she lives. I have her “so called” friends messaging me on Facebook telling me they are afraid for her life and that her addiction is out of control, yet she assures me this isn’t true.

She hasn’t worked in almost a year. She is living from couch to couch and my parents continue to send money. I have asked them not to, but even I cave sometimes (not often) when she calls crying and saying she hasn’t eaten in days. I talked to her twice last weekend. I could tell she was out of it by the sound of her voice and the fact that she was so out of it, she thought she called me. She did call me later that day and asked for money for food. I told her I couldn’t give her money because I was in fear she would use it to buy drugs that could kill her.

I was clear that the way I was willing to help was when she is ready to come home and deal with her problems and get help for them I would put her on a plane in a heartbeat. Of course, she was angry and told me she wasn’t an addict. We have tried multiple times to get her into rehab, but she has checked herself out or quit going. How do I just give up or quit trying? I know she has to want it on her own, but I can’t help but think about the guilt I will carry always wondering if I did enough to try and help her, if she dies from a drug overdose. How do I know if she really wants me to come save her or just leave her alone?

Photo of Ricki TownsendAnswer from Expert Ricki Townsend: Thank you for your questions. So many parents are grappling with this same distressing situation. It’s so hard to know what is truly going on and how to help.

First of all, mental health issues and chemical dependency often go hand in hand. It sounds like your daughter  may have had some mental health issues in the past, and she is finding relief by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol.

If her friends are sharing their fears with you, I would tend to believe them over her, in most cases. While in active addiction, we lie to our families to get what we need from them to survive, which is money to buy drugs or alcohol to quiet our screaming brains. I am sorry that your parents do not understand this disease and that they are partnering up with your daughter to support her addiction and a possible overdose. Chemical dependency impacts the entire family, and the entire family must “circle the wagons” to support a loved one in a healthy recovery. Until the whole family is in agreement, your daughter will seek out the weakest link to support her addiction.

You sound like you are healthy in your interactions with your daughter. I would continue to say, “I love you but will not support you in your addiction. I love you enough to let you hate me for this. I will support you in treatment only.”

I recommend you continue to participate in parent Al-Anon meetings. I also strongly encourage you to please seek professional support, just as you would for any other life-threatening illness. I’ve worked with many families long-distance to develop a plan and to find the words and the actions to make it work. Please give me a call at 916 539-4535 if you’d like my assistance. Or there are certainly many other capable family counselors/addiction specialists nationwide who could help guide you on this very tough journey.

I wish you well

Ricki Townsend

Board Certified Interventionist, Drug/Alcohol Counselor
NCAC1, CAS, RAS, Bri-1

 

Ten reasons that your addicted or alcoholic child will give to get out of rehab

checklist to keep our kids safe

Forewarned is forearmed.  Get ready for your beloved addict or alcoholic to tell you why they can’t stay in rehab:

 

  • The rehab just wants your money.”
  • I’ve got my drinking/drug use under control now.”
  • Everyone here is worse off than me.”
  • We don’t do anything worthwhile here.”
  • I’m all better now” or “I can get better on my own.”
  • I know better now and have figured things out.”
  • The counselors are mean and have stupid rules.”
  • The food is bad here.”
  • I don’t like going to the meetings.”
  • I need to get back to work and stop wasting my time here.”

 

So how can you respond? Here are some options:

  • Just say “Oh” or “Hmmm” or “Let me think about that.” 
  • That sounds like something you could discuss with your counselor”
  • We support your recovery here, and if you choose to leave rehab, you’ll have to find somewhere else to live.”
  • This is the right place for you to get healthy.”
  • I love you, and I know you can do this.”

So what do you tell the grandparents about your addicted/alcoholic child?

Choices in RelationshipsThere is no single answer to this question.  It depends on your relationship with your parents or in-laws, and your child’s relationship with them.

If grandparents don’t have contact with your beloved, chemically-dependent child, why tell them about the pain and struggle? If grandparents are fragile and sick, don’t add to their worries.  In short, if there is no reason for them to know, then there is no reason for them to know. Alternatively, if they are close to your child, they probably already have concerns and may actually be relieved to learn you’re taken steps to get help. And they may be able to offer financial resources to help with rehab.

Possible “land mine” ahead: many of “the Greatest Generation” are in the dark about the biological origins of chemical dependency and may consider this a character or personality defect.  Be ready to explain to them that your child has a brain disease and has become chemically-dependent upon drugs or alcohol. Help them understand that there is great hope for sobriety, and that you are taking steps as a family to get help.

It’s critical that grandparents understand you need to be united as a family.  That means Grandpa cannot give the addict money, and Grandpa cannot make her home a safe place for the alcoholic to crash. You all need to be united in the conviction that professional assistance is necessary to help your child get healthy again. You need to circle the wagons around your child.

This is not a time for blame or guilt. (Is there ever a time for blame and guilt??) No one made your child an alcoholic/addict, any more than anyone could make him or her diabetic or allergic.  No one has the power to make another person chemically-dependent. And no one but the addict or alcoholic has the power to reclaim their sobriety. Long-term recovery is within reach: 23 million Americans have already claimed theirs. If you enlist Grandma and Grandpa in a loving and informed way, your child will have a healthy network to help them claim their own recovery.

 

Busting the myth that “All young people experiment with drugs”

Jon DailyJon Daly of Recovery Happens Counseling Center disputes the myth that All  adolescents & young adults ”experiment” with  drugs. Here is the reality, according to Jon:  Statistics show that the rate of drug use remains at a very high  level for young people (1).  Part of the  myth of “experimentation” is that drug use is a naturally occurring “rite  of passage” from adolescence in to adulthood. However, not every young person  has tried or will try drugs. In addition, not all will pass through their drug  use without experiencing negative consequences from their use.   Drug use is risky and unhealthy  behavior.  In today’s society even  “experimentation” can lead to car accidents, driving while under the influence,  unplanned sexual activity, date rape, and sometimes death.  Moreover, the word “experimentation” can be  misleading.  When we get calls from  parents seeking counseling for their adolescent or young adult child, we often  hear the words, “I think my son is experimenting with drugs.”  When asked how long the parent has been aware  of the drug use, the reply can be anywhere from weeks to years.  The parent’s response implies that “experimentation”  is a phase, when “experimentation”  is not a phase at all.  In fact, it is a “one-time  event. ” (2) Once intoxication  has been experienced, the experiment is over.  The user has achieved the results of the  experiment, “I like this feeling,” or ” I don’t like this  feeling.”  Subsequent intoxication  indicates misuse, abuse or addiction.

When  helping young people with substance use disorders, at the end of the day what  we are assess and treating is a “pathological relationship to  intoxication.”  The name of the drug  they are using is an illusion .  They  need to know they are not hooked on weed, they are hooked on intoxication and  therefore must see all intoxicating substances as the same. Take away weed from  the pot smoker and they drink and/or take pills.  Take away Oxycontin for the opiate user and  they use benzodiazepines and marijuana.   This is because they were not hooked on the particular drug, they were  hooked on “intoxication.”   The  focus of treatment for young people is to severe their pathological  relationship to intoxication so as to open up their capacity to have regulating  relationships with their counselor, support groups, rebuilt family  relationships and healthy peer groups.   Such social supports promote dopamine(3), and endogenous opiates (4)  which the user has been chasing on the streets, but can be created in health  relationships as they were intended to.   Helping them and the family to understand this and supporting their  growth in this way is the core of treatment after we have helped them to become  drug-free

Stop talking and start mending things with your addicted child

Photo of teen girl talking to woman.One way I have learned to improve my relationships with my adult children whose issues with substance abuse bothered me is to remember to keep my big mouth shut…tight!  My friend says “I have the right to remain silent; I just don’t have the ability to!” Finally, I’m given a reason for my behavior – I’m powerless over the desire to comment!  A symptom of co-dependency, it perpetuates my unhappiness with the outcomes.  Even though I’m aware of the negative consequences, I forget the tools that help me behave differently. Slowly, I remember those tools before my tongue takes over and my ability to communicate with maturity improves.

I use to override or completely miss the signs that the other person doesn’t want to engage or is put off by something I have said. I tend to do this uncensored with the ones closest to me. For example, I want to offer advice that wasn’t requested from me or offer a better solution to something they share. Their reaction is silence, withdrawn or irritated outburst. Outbursts are unpleasant, but silence seems worse! The sound of silence triggers my need to break it with a question. Questions can be aggressive. Usually, I ask prying questions under the guise of being loving or interested. A question can put people on the defensive and coupled with substance abuse, there is also an open invitation for lying. Questions can also be perceived as prying and nosey. That is not the kind of mother I want to be and if I had continued without change, I would have pushed others further away from me – the exact opposite of what I desire!

Understanding my role in the family disease has helped me appreciate the significance of the slogan W.A.I.T.    This is an acronym I picked up in Al-Anon which stands for “why am I talking?” A good reminder to keep my urge to say something in check.  Another problem with questions is I’m usually not prepared for the answer! I’ve grabbed onto the saying, “Don’t ask if you don’t want to know!” Learning to listen and accept the situation, without comment, gets easier the more I practice. I have come to realize that silence is not unpleasant but rather a time I can compose myself to breathe, invite my Higher Power in, and be mindful of my own character defects.

To learn more about communicating successfully with your loved ones, explore Parent Pathway’s Meeting in a Box: Communication

Going “sky high” to prevent addiction and honor lost children

SafeLaunchSaferLock is a product designed to keep medications out of the wrong hands. On the SaferLock website, we found this “Sky High” approach to preventing drug abuse while honoring children lost along the way….

SafeLaunch is an innovative nonprofit focused on primary addiction prevention. “We started SafeLaunch to educate parents about brain development,” says SafeLaunch Co-Founder Janet Rowse. “It turns out that most people don’t know that the real risk of teen drug use is due to the fact that the developing brain is up to 600% more susceptible to chemical dependency. We believe that when parents understand the actual addiction risk of early drug and alcohol exposure, they will act to protect their children. Everyone has heard the phrase “‘prevention is the best cure.” SafeLaunch gives parents the tools they need to protect their children from exposure to drugs and alcohol; this is the real cure for addiction.”

One of easiest actions parents can take is to sign the SafeLaunch Parent Pledge, which gives parents simple action steps to increase their children’s chance for a successful, healthy life.

Along with the parent education and teen media contests that SafeLaunch promotes locally along California’s central coast, the founders do something no other drug prevention organization has done: they’ve taken their mission to the air.

Drawing on Co-founder Ron Cuff’s experience in naval aviation, SafeLaunch connects with thousands of families at airshows and aviation events across California. “When we realized that Ron’s solid white Cessna 182 is really just a funny-shaped canvas, we saw the opportunity to use the plane as a teaching tool,” says Janet. The alignment between the aviation community and SafeLaunch is strong. Both are focused on safety, and both encourage youth to think seriously about their future. The Flights Above Addiction interactive exhibit has become a favorite at these events where kids have a chance to paint their dreams on the fuselage of the all-white plane. “We tell the young artists that a great life is like a great flight: You need to plan your destination and keep a clear head to arrive safely,” explains Ron.

In just three years of this program, SafeLaunch has educated over 1000 families about addiction risk and inspired hundreds of youth to think about their futures.

On a poignant note, SafeLaunch invites parents from across the country to pay tribute to a child’s life tragically cut short by drug or alcohol use. “When parents send us their children’s picture and stories, we permanently affix their names and ages to the underside of the wings of the plane and put their stories in the Wind Beneath our Wings album that we share with young families at the air shows. The names and ages are a cautionary tale told silently,” explains Janet.

Keep up with SafeLaunch in action on their Facebook page

Being a Super Hero is exhausting–and dangerous–work if you are the parent of an addict or alcoholic

super woman capeOne of our readers commented on a previous blog post that, “Staying out of the way is a tough one.  Especially for someone like me.  I have spent my life rushing to be a hero.  Here I am to save the day.  Finally, someone reminded me that what I save, when rushing to clear the debris of a using addict, is one thing:  that they survive yet another day without responsibility; leaving them free to create more chaos.  If I do this long enough, they might actually die.”

Being a Super Hero is exhausting.  And saving someone who needs to save themselves is futile and even potentially deadly. How can we remove ourselves from the role of rescuer and enabler?  Here are some ideas:

  • Instead of jumping in to solve their problems, just say “Oh” or “Hmmmm” or “I’ll have to think about that” or “I know you can figure that out.”  If you are accustomed to having the answers for your child, this new approach may make you anxious.  How can they possibly figure it without SuperParent assistance? The truth is they will never figure it out if you always solve it for them. Handing them the power and responsibility of managing their own lives requires both parent and child to change. This is about you, Mom and Dad, as much as your child.
  • If you leap into action to stop a barrage of threats or accusations (for example, “It’s your fault if I can’t get to work!”) then pull out the S**T shield.  Imagine a magical force field that protects your from incoming threats, hatred and abuse.  And tell your child, “I will not tolerate that kind of language,” and let them know they have to leave if they continue to speak that way. (Reminder!  You have the right to a serene and calm home.)
  • Let your child know that the rules of engagement have changed.  When your child accuses you– “You USED to be nice and let me crash on the sofa”–  tell him or her, “I’ve changed.  That’s not OK with me anymore. If you are using drugs or alcohol, then you cannot sleep in my house.”
  • Finally, use difficult confrontations as reminders to take care of yourself. When your child presses you for money, go treat yourself to a coffee or flowers or new paperback. When yoru son complains that you don’t care if his back aches (which is often a result of opioid abuse), then go get yourself a massage.  When your daughter complains that she needs new clothes because left her old clothes at her last crash pad, go put on something warm and cozy.

Tough Love is tough—on them, and on us.  Seize your superpower to take care of yourself and give your child a reason to change.

 

To restore healthy boundaries, check out our “Boundaries Meeting in a Box.”

 

Truth be Told, Parent of Addict to Parent of Addict, Self to Self

A friend introduced me to someone whose teenagers turned into addicts but now older, are doing well. “His story has great hope for others”, my friend said.   Well, I thought, I’m always open to talking to others who share a language close to my own.

What I found was a man still deeply moved by the turmoil and anguish he experienced as if it were yesterday. In actuality it was 6 years ago.  I was not surprised by this.  I don’t believe you ever get over the events of having a child struggle with addiction; you learn to live with it. 

We immediately related to each other’s experience: the missing checks, the bank statement confirming the dreaded truth; the full blown lying, arrests, rehabs and relapses.  How college funds were replaced with otherworldly things:  pawn shops, psychological counseling, sober living, wilderness programs and such.  What I found was a man not unlike myself.  We both learned that survival would take a change in how we parent.  He did this with counseling and outside help.  I related to that too.  I don’t believe you can do this alone.

It’s true, his kids, now in their mid twenties, are doing better today.  He even sees mental maturing and critical thinking skills that drugs took away from their developing brains.  I sensed his recent financial support for both had left some doubt in his mind.  Though it felt different this time, he expressed concern in certain “behaviors” and our eyes said “possible co-dependent thinking.” 

Here we both shared an unspoken truth – their future lies in their ability and desire to fight for sobriety, not our wanting them to be sober.  We have little to no influence in this.  If they are OK today, well that’s nice.

We have grown an outer layer of defense about how one day can change to the next.  We won’t allow obsessive thoughts to ponder the “what ifs.”  And we always need to moderate our urges to help:  Will it hurt our new relationship?  Do I have expectations?  Am I trying to control or manipulate?  Did they ask for help, or am I jumping in where I don’t belong?